Ranking Potter #6: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

Written by  //  July 9, 2011  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  2 Comments

It isn’t David Yates’ fault. It isn’t the cast’s fault. And it certainly isn’t the visual effects supervisor’s fault. The issue here is simply that the first half of the final Harry Potter book, is the single weakest portion of writing in the series. I remember being endlessly frustrated as I went through those initial 300-odd pages at the amount of padding Rowling had indulged in, the endless bits of our central trio stomping about deserted forests, the strange lack of forward momentum. In the book, it all redeems itself of course by the furiously exciting Battle of Hogwarts – but this movie by definition doesn’t have the luxury of striking that balance. And yet, what could have been an excruciating movie is somehow salvaged by Yates’ steady hand into instead ending up as a mostly solid Potter outing.

Mostly.

Not since the first 2 movies has an adaptation been this slavishly faithful to the book – and yet you see here the difference that a good director can make. This part of Deathly Hallows will stand out for Yates’ very unique flourishes : a poignant opening sequence with Hermione casting the most emotionally draining spell you’ve seen in the course of the series;  or the casually gorgeous bits of cinematographic work that capture the trio’s journey through British landscapes; or an impromptu dance between Harry and Hermione at a particularly dark moment. Again, this is easily the hardest of Rowling’s books to adapt to the screen in a satisfying way, and if Yates doesn’t always succeed, he still comes quite close. While an audacious sequence at the Ministry of Magic lacks the nervous tension that it crackled with in the book, the encounter with Bathilda Bagshot is chillingly effective. Emma Watson in particular fires on all cylinders as Hermione – the torture sequence with Bellatrix Lestrange at the end (oddly sexually charged, by the way) is a particularly strong showcase for her hugely improved skills.

The most remarkable portion of the movie is a visualization of the story of the Deathly Hallows itself: it is at this point that the movie takes leave of whatever fidelity it may have to the book or to the Potter film-making canon before it, and embarks on a stunning, audacious animated sequence that soars in a way the rest of the movie simply cannot.

The decision to split the final book into 2 movies was justified on “artistic grounds”: while this is the first Potter movie that consequently has spaces to breathe, it isn’t neccesarily a justified decision. Here’s hoping whatever’s waiting for us in the second half makes it worth the split.

2 Comments on "Ranking Potter #6: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1"

  1. Alok July 9, 2011 at 7:13 am ·

    The animated sequence reminded me of Benicio Del Toro’s ways of telling the back-story to Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy 2, especially the latter.

    But yes, I did get bored after a while, and watching a movie with a theater full of screaming kids (outnumbering the adults 40 to 1) did not exactly add to my appreciation of the film.

  2. Lekha Sridhar July 11, 2011 at 1:05 pm ·

    The first 300 pages? The 7th book is by far the weakest book of the series. 3 notches below phoning it in. And don’t even get me started on that epilogue.

    The 3rd movie is (of course) the highest point of the series. But for me, none of the others ever managed to rise above mediocre/forgettable.

    And on the subject of Hermione’s Obliviate charm, my favourite movie lampooner Rod Hilton (www.the-editing-room.com) pointed out that there is absolutely nothing weird or suspicious about Mr and Mrs. Granger having a bunch of photo frames with the Sears portrait studio backdrops on their mantelpiece.

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